SPONGE 2020 is a European funded project that brings together organisations from different countries in the EU to tackle the water-related effects of climate change.
Climate change, while being a global phenomenon, will typically have the greatest impacts on a local and community scale. In the UK, increased risk of flooding, including surface water flooding, is one of the biggest threats from climate change. This threat is unlikely to be addressed sufficiently by our traditional drainage systems and hard infrastructure.
Fortunately, there are many ways in which we can give nature, and all the beautiful, important functions it provides us, a space in our cities, while allowing positive development to take place.
Until 2020, Somerset County Council is collaborating with Westcountry Rivers Trust to work with local people to develop innovative, nature-based solutions to address surface water flooding and related problems in urban areas across Somerset.
Find out more about the partners in Somerset, the issues we want to tackle and what role you can play below.
Nature provides many benefits to us – some of them we know about and are very aware of, and some of them less so. We are increasingly becoming aware of the many ways in which our lives are improved through nature, and – especially in towns and cities – green spaces. However, as towns and cities are growing, and more and more land is built on, sealing off soil and reducing natural areas in already built-up spaces.
The network of parks, gardens, road verges, street trees and all the other natural bits – big and small – that we find in our towns are crucial to our well-being in many ways. They provide space for wildlife, reduce the impact of heatwaves in summer, improve air and water quality, reduce flood risk and generally make us happier.
In project SPONGE, we focus on two connected issues that need to be tackled – and we are tackling them by giving nature more space. One is increasing risk of high intensity rainfall due to climate change, and the other is the decreasing ability of our towns and cities to soak up water.
We are already seeing changes in our climate, with the amount of rain falling on really wet days already showing an increase and predicted to continue to rise.
The response of an area to extreme rainfall depends on what this area looks like. Built-up areas tend to respond more quickly to high rainfalls. This is mainly due to their ‘impermeability’: roads, buildings and other hard surfaces cannot soak up water. Traditionally, pipes and gullies take rainwater in urban areas and transport it quickly away from the surface. However, our drainage systems are often overwhelmed by the increasing amounts of water they have to cope with during single storms or ‘rainfall events’.
Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), like ponds, wetlands and raingardens, give us the opportunity to learn from and work with nature to address these problems and at the same time provide green spaces for people and wildlife. They take inspiration from nature to soak up water that could otherwise build up and cause a flood. Plus, they can be built on all different scales, from a planter in your garden to much larger systems.
If you’d like to learn more about the links between climate change, surface water flooding and Sustainable Drainage Systems, have a look at Resources.
Where does this project come in?
Acknowledging this issue, the European Regional Development Fund has granted money to a group of European organisations to address surface water flooding and other impacts of climate change through innovative nature-based solutions that work with local communities.
SPONGE 2020 aims to pave the way for adaptation of more flexible, innovative solutions in towns and cities across the EU to combat the effects of climate change by building resilience rather than relying on old-fashioned hard engineering that is unable to adapt.
Somerset SPONGE is one part of this project, lead by Westcountry Rivers Trust and Somerset County Council. In this project, we want to work with the communities in Taunton and other urban areas of Somerset to deliver a number of “green interventions”, that is, SuDS, that can soak up surface water like a sponge! These interventions will not only help to prevent surface water flooding but also add to and improve the green spaces we need to make our towns greener, happier and more resilient. And we’d like everyone to get involved!
You can find out more about what is going on across Europe as part of SPONGE2020 on the Interreg2Seas webpage.
Through this cross-border collaboration, we can share our experiences and ultimately develop case studies and guidance that helps address a wide range of situations and provide examples to stakeholders and practitioners across the continent and beyond.
Somerset has experienced extensive flooding in the past. Flooding from rivers is common and widely understood, however there is also a pressing risk from surface water flooding. Surface water flooding happens when rainwater collecting on impermeable surfaces overwhelms our traditional drainage systems. This can cause flooding locally, or, by rapidly directing rainwater to the river, can increase the risk of flooding downstream.
There is much more information on surface water flooding and why our traditional drainage systems can cause problems during heavy rain on our Resources page.
Somerset already has strategies in place to tackle these issues, but to have the greatest impact it is important to get communities involved in making a change. In Taunton, where we are currently focusing our work, we are using mapping and data analysis to find focus areas where we can work with local people to make the biggest difference.
Over three years, Westcountry Rivers Trust and Somerset County Council will work together with local communities in Taunton.
We will help people understand how surface water flooding affects them and how it is affecting others, and how they can take action to increase the resilience of their neighbourhood.
We will also be delivering sustainable solutions to surface water flooding in public spaces. Local residents, groups and businesses will have the opportunity to take an active part in shaping the development of their neighbourhood by being involved in the design and creation of these solutions.
The project SPONGE2020 is an Interreg2Seas project and is funded by the European Regional Development Fund. Somerset County Council is also receiving funding from the Somerset Rivers Authority.
Parts of the project are also funded by Wessex Water, the Greggs Foundation Grant, the Postcode Local Trust and the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Want to get stuck in?
We are looking for spaces which could be home to a raingarden, and people that want to be part of creating them.
Visit our ‘Get Involved’ page for more info…